This popped up on my phone today, courtesy Google news. I thought that I would share it with the community. I think you will find it interesting and a good conversation starter with college aged folks and people in general.
The author of the article is Michael S. Roth President of Wesleyan University. He tells this story from his teaching days. The class was on vice and virtue, the topic was Thomas Aquinas as seen from a historical and philosophical POV. After the class he was called out by a student, named Tom, for leaving out the main propose of Aquinas’ work, the salvation of one’s soul.
There are a lot of ways to read this, a failing educational system that beats down conservative evangelical world views or we could read this as, no one is really interested in this stuff anymore or we could just assume that students, teachers and parents and the general public just want the facts about a particular topic or subject and thus avoid the elephant in the room.
Roth says this about his experience with interjecting the big topics of salvation, immortality and the soul into the classroom. What he said reminded me of Ravi’s book, Beyond Opinion, and the his experience with the lack student engagement that he encounter on the college campus, I believe that he was met with “polite indifference”. This might be a good place to point out that Roth is an atheist and a Jew.
”As a teacher, I find remarkable resistance to bringing religious ideas and experiences into class discussions. When I ask what a philosopher had in mind in writing about salvation, or the immortality of the soul, my normally talkative undergraduates suddenly stare down at their notes.”
He contrasted that to asking his students factual question:
”If I ask them a factual theological question about the Protestant Reformation, they are ready with answers: predestination; “faith, not works”; and so on. But if I go on to ask students how one knows in one’s heart that one is saved, they turn back to their laptops. They look anywhere but at me—for fear that I might ask them about feeling the love of God or about having a heart filled with faith. In my cultural-history classes, we talk about sexuality and identity, violence and revolution, art and obscenity, and the students are generally eager to weigh in. But when I bring up the topic of religious feeling or practice, an awkward silence always ensues.”
I am encouraged by this statement that he makes, and I wish that we would all take it to heart.
”How can such an institution claim to educate students about ideas, culture, and ways of life if students, professors, or both are uncomfortable when talking about something that’s been central to humanity throughout recorded history?”
Roth makes a point to define the mission of the school as he moves to what I think will be his main point.
”John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. In 1831, Wesleyan’s first president, Wilbur Fisk, articulated the mission of the school as being for “the good of the individual and the good of the world,” drawing on Methodism’s synthesis of deeply personal spirituality and the pursuit of social reform.”
This is my take away and I believe the crux of what he is saying:
…”many of them are still perfectly comfortable with the idea of finding one’s own good while also doing work in the world that promotes what they now call social justice. If they no longer have a principled spirituality, they need to think hard about what else sustains efforts aimed at justice—and about how politics, ethics, and the nature of knowledge have been intertwined with religious faith and practice.”
Here is the link to the complete article.
Would be interested in your thoughts.